Carlos Alazraqui brings to life the charming El Chupacabra and Gabriel Iglesias voices Team Ripslinger’s bombastic racers Ned and Zed in Disney’s new 3D animated comedy, Planes, about Dusty (Dane Cook), a small town crop duster that dreams of competing as a high-flying air racer despite his fear of heights. Opening August 9th, the all-new action-packed adventure from Disneytoon Studios is directed by Klay Hall and features an awesome voice cast that includes Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Priyanka Chopra, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Roger Craig Smith, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, and Sinbad.
At a fun press day held at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying, Alazraqui and Iglesias talked about voicing their characters, how it compares to doing voices in stand-up comedy, the challenge of replacing someone who’s already voiced your character when the animation is already set, improvising in the animation booth, why it helps to read against the director, why they knew they could knock their lines out of the park, and their upcoming projects including the sequel, Planes: Fire & Rescue, an animated film called Book of Life, and a third season of the Comedy Central Show, Stand-Up Revolution. Check out the interview after the jump.
Gabriel Iglesias: Did you get off the runway?
I got off the runway, but I never landed.
Iglesias: It’s like, “Pull up! Pull up!”
Carlos Alazraqui: That’s the only way to fly.
Gabriel, I know you have a long history of voice work. But this is pretty new to you, isn’t it?
Iglesias: Doing voiceover work is new. However, I’m a stand-up comic, so as a comic, I’ve been doing voices for almost sixteen years.
So that’s part of your act?
Did you find it any different though when you had to go into a small room and there’s no audience to react to? Was that hard to adjust to?
Iglesias: I found it easier because you’re able to make mistakes. You’re able to do it over. “Now do it like this. Now do it like that. Now give me more of this.” As long as you have a director, that’s your feedback. It’s the director telling you, “Okay. That was great! Okay. Can we add a little? Can you tweak it like this? Can you make it more high pitched? Can you give it a little growl?” That was my feedback in the room. I’m cool. I’ve got the headphones on. I can hear myself clear. I’m going back and forth with someone. If I was doing voiceover work alone — like sometimes they’ll give me scripts and they’ll say, “You know what, record this. Put this on tape and send it to us.” — then that’s when it gets a little bit weird because I don’t know if I did it right.
Originally, this was going to be direct to DVD. When you guys did your voices, was there anything you had to come back for? Did they expand it at all, or was it just once you did your work, you were done?
Alazraqui: No, you come back several times. I started on the original table read in May 2010 and my daughter was days away from being born. I showed up to read and saw this character, El Chupacabra, and then next thing I know, I was called in to do a couple of sessions. Like Gabriel said, you come in and you refine it, because they might change the dialogue or they might say, “We thought we had that line, but let’s try it this way.” So you come in several times and it’s awesome. It’s awesome to come into Disneytoons. They feed you. There’s a free café. There’s free soda. It’s like, “What do you want? This? That?” You’re looking forward to coming back.
Iglesias: Not like Nickelodeon. They have a vending machine. It’s so different.
Alazraqui: I know the legend of La Llorona and El Chupacabra and the legendary tales of Mexican folklore, but I knew about what El Chupacabra was supposed to be. Before I did the original role, I knew that his character was somebody who was a telenovelas star. My parents are from Buenos Aires, Argentina so there’s certainly no loss for people being vain in Argentina. I knew that I could bring that vanity from an Argentinian and put him into a character from Mexico and make him very big. That research was lifelong of the people that I grew up with. I’m sure Gabriel’s is the same way.
Was it hard for you to make a Mexican accent?
Alazraqui: Or to be neutral, because “Pochon, la cache, la chuvia,” in Argentina, that’s what I grew up listening to. But no, I’m living in Los Angeles and I come across it.
Iglesias: You pick it up.
Alazraqui: My neighbors are from Mexico, from Michoacan in Mexico City. As voice actors, we are trained to bring the most authentic accent or dialect we can to a character.
Iglesias: Whether it’s a Mexican character or any other type of character. We need Russian now or Middle Eastern or whatever they’re asking for. But in L.A., you’ve got enough to pull from.
How much did they allow you guys to improvise? Did you have to do the line and then replay it a little bit?
Iglesias: That was one thing that was really cool, too. Klay said, “Have fun. You can tag it up by adding your own little bit at the end or something to spice it up.” But we had to try to stay in the timeframe that the mouth was moving. You’re looking at a screen and you see the mouth moving and you have to keep it within that timeframe. There were a lot of times where I did that piece really well but it was too long. So it was like, “That was great, but just shorten it.” “That was funny, but get to it quicker.”
Alazraqui: I think you would have to explain that you were doing what Dane Cook was doing. In other words, somebody had voiced the character and you came in to replace that person. The animation is already set so what Gabriel and Dane did is twice as difficult as actually recording it, because when you have the freedom to be yourself and create the character, you have all the time in the world to play. But when you have to fit somebody else’s timing, it increases the difficulty by .257. You’re really doing something that’s hard. It’s much harder to do what Dane and Gabe did. Unless it was something that I did originally and then they wanted to make a change, I had the freedom to do lots of different things. I could go anywhere because it wasn’t pre-drawn.
Iglesias: They had somebody else read it, just neutral, so they can build the animation around the voice and then I go in there and I do it.
So you add the pizzazz?
Iglesias: Uh huh.
Alazraqui: You’re getting the four beeps, and then on the fourth beep, you go. He’s got to fit his acting, what he brings to the character, in a certain amount of time. It’s very difficult. It’s very hard to do.
You also improvise in Spanish and you mix both languages at the same time. Was a lot of it improvisation or was it all in the script?
Alazraqui: There are certain words that were improvised in Spanish. If it said, “Help me, Dusty,” I might say, “Dusty, ayudame.” And they’d go, “Oh yeah. We like ‘ayudame’ instead of ‘help me.’” Most of the lines I did as written, but I would add a grito or a “No me digas” or a “Ay ay ay!” There were little flavors, little accents like that. I would do little things like that.
Did you ever meet Julia Louis-Dreyfus?
Alazraqui: No. I’m looking forward to it. It would be nice because I love Seinfeld. In the case of most of us, we worked alone, and then they’d piece it together. And then, we would work with Klay playing the other characters. For example, I know Ned and Zed had to work against Ripslinger who is Roger Craig Smith, and the line where El Chu is trying to pick up Julia Louis-Dreyfus with the pick-up lines, Klay was playing that role. That helps us when you get to read against the director.
Iglesias: When you get to read with someone, that helps you versus trying to just take it off the paper.
Are both of you generally good flyers? Do you like flying or do you hate flying?
Iglesias: This guy skydives.
Alazraqui: Yeah. I’m a former skydiver, and I quit now because I have a wife and a daughter and another one coming. I skydived from 1995 to 2010, so 15 years, 723 jumps. I jumped out of all kinds of things including a hot air balloon and now I go to the flight tunnel, iFLY, at Universal Studios Hollywood, which the research team did to feel how small movements can create that. Ironically, once I started skydiving, and we took a skydiving trip to Hawaii, and we took our rigs and we put them on the overhead, I felt nervous not having my rig on in case the plane went down because I wasn’t used to landing. I would go up in a King Air or a Twin Engine Otter or a Skyvan. I was used to jumping out, not landing. So, the landing part and not having my parachute on started to make me nervous. (To Gabriel) I know you take your bus now. His tour is fantastic so he can afford to go by bus, but we’re good flyers, and as comics, you have to fly everywhere. You didn’t take it to the Middle East. Vroom! Here comes Gabriel’s bus.
Iglesias: It’s still on its way. I still fly every week. Even though I’m on the road with the bus, I come home every week. I go on the road every week. So I probably spend a good 300-400 hours a year at the airport.
Alazraqui: You and Sam Elliott from The Big Lebowski. (mimicking Elliott’s voice) The Dude abides. You’re the Million Mile Club sitting in First Class. Gabriel, congratulations!
You guys should have done the scene with George Clooney and Sam Elliott in Up in the Air.
Alazraqui: That would have been so much better.
Iglesias: You painted a good picture. I was with you on it.
Alazraqui: (as Sam Elliott) Congratulations, Gabriel. You’ve made the Million Mile Club.
Were you guys ever in the sound booth just cracking up at yourselves? I don’t know how you got through that one recording scene that was hilarious.
Alazraqui: It was so funny. “Is it cold in here or is it the ice on my wings?” I don’t remember the jokes, but it was so hokey. It was Priyanka who plays Ishani. She was coming up to me going, “I swish my cape at you!” Those are lines for people like Gabriel and I since we’ve done so much stand-up comedy. When you’ve got lines like that, it’s like Tee Ball for us. We knew that we could knock those lines out of the park.
Iglesias: Having cool lines, you get to sell it. It’s when you’ve got crappy lines, it’s like, “Oh God, really?! Alright, here we go.”
Alazraqui: But it was fun. You’re cracking yourself up. You’re having fun. It’s a dream job.
Has your daughter seen the movie?
Alazraqui: My daughter knows who El Chu is. She’s only two, so I don’t know that she understands per se. She’s going to go to the premiere. She can’t handle a full film yet. We went to Pixar. We did a tour and we saw a couple of shorts. One of them, if you saw Monsters University, was The Blue Umbrella short where the blue umbrella meets the red umbrella. My daughter is used to the DVR at home. We watch Dora and Diego and all that kind of stuff, and at home, we’ll always repeat it. So, we’re in the Pixar theater. We’ve had this wonderful tour. We appreciate everything. They show us the first short. It ends, and my daughter goes, “Again? Again?” And I say, “No, honey. You can’t do again here.” Her attention span is about five minutes so I don’t think she can handle the whole movie yet.
Have you tried to explain to her what you do for a living?
Iglesias: I think you’d find it hard to explain to her that not all daddies do what you do.
Alazraqui: Yeah. I guess so. You know who I’d use? I’d use Christian Bale from Newsies because she loves Newsies. (starts singing like Bale) “I’m the King of New York.” She’ll sit there and she’ll go, “I’m the King of New York.” I’m watching The Incredible Mr. Limpet with her.
Iglesias: Wow! Don Knotts!
Alazraqui: Yeah. She’s like, “Mr. Limpet! Mr. Limpet!” She likes the part where the shark comes and it scares him away. So she knows. She gets the gist that daddy does voices and daddy’s goofy.
Are you guys dubbing it into Spanish for Latin America?
Alazraqui: No. They will go ahead and get somebody else. I would love the opportunity.
Iglesias: My agent’s just not that good. (laughs) I’m kidding.
Alazraqui: I’d love to be able to do it, but no. I don’t think so.
Iglesias: I think the Spanish interviews were hard enough.
Alazraqui: They’re hard.
Iglesias: Ordering food is one thing, man, but answering some of those questions, like “Tell us about Ripslinger.”
Alazraqui: El es un maldito.
Iglesias: Es un mala persona. It was terrible. Pocho Spanish! Ordering food at a taco truck is easy.
Did you come up with different ideas for each of your guys? They’re like the entourage in a way. Did you create a backstory?
Iglesias: The cool part with them is…
Alazraqui: They’re the comics that go on tour with you.
Iglesias: (laughs) Totally. For me, it was a big deal to get to use my real voice. I was excited about that. It had to be a sinister version of my voice. It’s like I’m up to no good or just being real mean, but it’s my voice. And the other one, he’s kind of dumb. He’s just out there and clueless. He’s a bad guy, but he’s like, “I’m a bad guy, rahhhh!” It was cool. I got to have fun with that one, but I like the fact that I got to do my real voice for one.
Alazraqui: My research would be my mom who is una pistola. She’s like (mimicking her voice), “Carlos, you’re going to be a television star!” When I was a Taco Bell Chihuahua, she told everybody, “My son is the Taco Bell Chihuahua! That’s my son!” She’s that type of woman, so I definitely brought a lot of her energy into El Chu wanting to get that attention. “The hero of the people has arrived!” I grew up watching that from my mom and my mom’s Peruvian friends and Mexican friends just being very full of life. That was sort of ingrained research that I’ve already done. It was very easy. You want this guy to be the center of attention? Yeah. We’re comics. Center of attention? What do we know about that? (laughs)
Iglesias: Easy! That’s all we know.
Alazraqui: So that’s what I brought to El Chu for sure.
How was it working with Klay?
Iglesias: I think Carlos got to work more hands on with Klay. Pretty much all the animation I had seen on a screen. It was already there for me versus some of the other stuff I saw like the drawings, and you guys were going back and forth with El Chu.
Alazraqui: Klay’s great. He’s a real actor’s director. He really defers. He’s got a great sense of story, which is I think why Lasseter hired him. He keeps you within the framework of the story, but he also lets you do what you do and he’s not afraid to go, “Wow! I didn’t think of that. I like that. Let’s use it.” There’s no ego with him so it was awesome. He’s great to work with.
Iglesias: Usually you’ve got to deal with, “Just stick to the script.” And you’re like, “Okay.” But that wasn’t the case here.
How important was El Chu in Dusty’s race?
Alazraqui: Chu was very important because he’s one of Dusty’s true allies. He’s working against Ripslinger and his evil guys. Dusty needs to know that when he’s away from home, when he’s away from Propwash Junction, he’s got a friend, a real friend. El Chu literally helps after Dusty goes through what he goes through. He helps organize a rally to get parts for Dusty and bring him back together. Dusty doesn’t finish without El Chu.
He’s like a Casanova, huh?
Alazraqui: Well, he thinks of himself as a Casanova. (mimicking El Chu’s voice) “The women, they love me. Dusty, ayudame! Mi Corazon es para Rochelle! Tengo miedo! Please! Help me, Dusty. What do I do?” And he’s like (mimicking Dusty’s voice), “Chu, slow down! You gotta be cooler.” So, he thinks he’s suave with the ladies, but when it comes to his true love, Rochelle, he’s afraid. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Iglesias: Which reminds me of my uncle. He’s the same guy. Un romantico. He wears a wrestling mask, too.
Are you guys both signed on for the sequel?
Alazraqui: For Planes 2? Yes. El Chu is in Planes: Fire & Rescue. He is in there. He will be there.
Iglesias: This is the first time I’ve heard of it.
Alazraqui: I’m sure Ned and Zed will come back.
Iglesias: If not, I’ll come in as somebody else.
That’s the cool part about doing voiceover work.
Iglesias: The funny part is I’ve done two Disney projects and both times I’ve played twins. I did a cartoon called The Emperor’s New School and I played the characters Yu and Tu. And so, the second time around, I’m doing something for Disney and I’m playing Ned and Zed. Okay! I work in twos.
Twice the paycheck?
Alazraqui: That’s what’s wonderful for both of us to work for Disney and Klay Hall and John Lasseter. We get seen by them and they’re going to notice Gabriel’s talent and say, “Yes. Gabriel’s going to be part of the Planes franchise.” And for me too, they might say, “He’d be great, too.” And then they plug us into their whole family. That’s what we’re really excited about is being part of the whole Disneytoons venture, because it’s brand new for Lasseter to hand over the reins. When you go to Pixar in Emeryville, Disneytoons is modeled after that, all the way down to the way they deliver the film. There are pictures at Pixar of them hoisting a glass of champagne to deliver the film Brave. All the animators are there. So when we were there to do the mommy blog day, John Lasseter came by. It was July 2nd. He got everybody out, and like they do at Pixar, they hoisted a glass to Klay Hall and said, “Congratulations! Planes has officially been delivered.” They’ve modeled Disneytoons around what Pixar does. It’s exciting for us to be a part of that family. I hope it bodes well for us where we’re in all of their projects. That would be great.
Were you guys happy with the cartoon depictions of yourselves?
Iglesias: I’m a lot thinner as a plane.
Alazraqui: I’m better looking.
Iglesias: No stretch marks. It’s great.
Alazraqui: They filmed us. They had a camera while we were recording so they captured some facial stuff. I like El Chu’s eyes. They’re very romantic, very sleepy and dreamy, whereas mine are frightened and full of smog.
What do you guys have coming up next? What’s immediate on your plate career-wise?
Iglesias: That’s funny. I’m thinking lunch. Denny’s sounds good right now.
Alazraqui: For me, I’m just promoting Planes and I’m also working on another film for another studio with a friend, Jorge Gutierrez. Right now the working title is called Book of Life. I believe I have a role in that. We’re using my character to pitch to ABC Family and some other networks and trying to put an Argentinian spin on the character for that. I’m still doing The Fairly OddParents for Nickelodeon. And on weekdays, on Monday, you can find me at the California Verdugo Pool in Burbank teaching my daughter, Riley, swimming lessons.
Do you still get residuals from Yo Quiero Taco Bell?
Alazraqui: No. That has come and gone. (mimicking a Southern accent) If you’re all in the Southeast, you can catch me as J.J. Hightail, the voice for Direct Auto Insurance in 12 Southeastern states. I play a race car driver.
Iglesias: I’ve seen your commercial with the mustache. Yeah.
Alazraqui: So I’m playing a white guy, too. That’s what’s good about being voice actors and actors and comedians is that as Latinos, we get to play Latinos, white guys, dudes, Middle Easterners, New Zealanders.
Alazraqui: It’s pretty cool.
Iglesias: I’m doing Book of Life, too.
Alazraqui: Awesome! That’s what Jorge mentioned.
Iglesias: So that, and then I have a Comedy Central Show called Stand-Up Revolution and that got picked up for Season 3, so I’m working on that. We start recording in September. We’re busy folks which is a good thing.
Alazraqui: You’re also at the Comedy Adventure Club, too.
Iglesias: Yeah. I’m there next week, Tuesday and Wednesday. I run the cleanup having showcases for the TV show. It should be fun.